The Loh Down On Science

Venus the Designer

A new morphing plastic material is modeled after the Venus flytrap.

Steady now--it's a closer look into the Venus fly trap!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science

Alfred Crosby and Douglas Holmes of the University of Amherst were inspired by bug-eating Venus fly trap plants. You know, the ones that SNAP their leaves shut to capture prey.

It wasn't just the plants' executioner-like efficiency. They saw DESIGN possibilities--

See, the fly trap's leaves don't shut like a hinge. Instead, they're covered with bumps and sensitive hairs. Trigger the hairs, and the bumps SNAP into depressions, like an umbrella turning inside-out.

The "snap" happens because the bumps are elastically unstable. It's doesn't take much energy to change their shape.

Drawing on that mechanism, Crosby and Holmes have developed a plastic material that works in much same way--"snapping" into different shapes.

Their material has bumps and hairs, too. Trigger it with heat, light or voltage, and the bumps turn into hollows, changing the materials' surface.

Uses could include Glue that releases on command! Road signs that become reflective in bad weather!

Summerstock production of "Little Shop of Horrors" that goes very very wrong! Wouldn't be the first time.


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